Here researchers looked to see how brains watched and learned how to construct a simple structure with Tinker Toys.
Not surprisingly, a lot more activity was seen if test subjects were watching to learn (anticipating that they were to do the task later) vs. watching only. The cerebellum (orange arrows) was very active with this process, consistent with its role in motor learning and expertise. When researchers look for brain areas that provided the best predictor of accurate learning, the right parietal lobe seemed to win. Perhaps R parietal activation signals a good "impression" of the demonstrated task.
Hands-on building is not just for budding engineers, scientists, and architects. Children who avoid building like the plague often benefit from patient instruction...it might be because they are weak and challenged in the areas of spatial awareness, cerebellar, and other motor controls. Are you building incompetent? If so, maybe K'nex lesson plans would be a good place to start...
Advanced builders might like looking at this MIT-built Tinker Toy computer- it plays tic-tac-toe:
Learning from Observation article
Learning from Observation and fMRI
Design Challenge Lessons from the Tech Museum
Knex and Lego Lesson Plans
Technorati tags: fMRI, education, science, hands-on, learning, brain